Confession: Second Guessing My R-Word Silence

by Jen Bush on April 13, 2011

There is a grass roots movement to stop the use of the “r-word.” It is an offensive term, hurtful when used to describe someone as stupid or silly. The organization R-Word notes on their website that:

when “retard” and “retarded” are used as synonyms for “dumb” or “stupid” by people without disabilities, it only reinforces painful stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities being less valued members of humanity.

They ask people to take a pledge to “support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.”

I agree. I understand the power of words and want to make mine count. But recently, when faced with an opportunity to educate, I’m ashamed to admit did nothing.

Two evenings a week, I go to Zumba class. It’s fun and I’m able to break a sweat without getting bored. The class I go to is very popular, with around 90 people coming every time. The instructor is fantastic,  likable and funny. She’s energetic and has abs to die for. And though I’ve started to recognize the regulars and even engage in occasional small talk, I don’t really know anyone there.

Last week, about half way through the class, a lot of people left the floor for a water break. And that’s when it happened: the instructor dropped the r-word. She said something like “don’t make me do the next routine alone. It will look retarded.” My heart sank.

But at the end of class, I gathered my things like always, and just left. I didn’t say anything. I just opted out. Of course I know that people who live with disabilities don’t get to opt out even for a minute. And this class is at the YMCA, an organization that promotes inclusion. The instructor might have even been thankful if I had told her; I’m sure she doesn’t mean to offend. I should have said something. I know.

I could make a lot of excuses as to why I didn’t, but the truth is I didn’t want to. Zumba class is the one place that I am anonymous, just a face in the crowd trying to shed some pounds and not fall down doing it. No one there knows my kid has autism. For 60 minutes, I don’t have to be an advocate, therapist or teacher.

It was the weak choice, and I’m not proud. But if given another opportunity, I’m still not sure what I’d do.

{ 1 comment }

Nicole May 1, 2011 at 4:31 pm

That sucks…can totally understand your stance. I did say something the other day, just having drinks with a few guys I work with on very rare occasions. I basically said “you can’t use that word”…just casually, and his response was “yes, I can” – I didn’t feel like making a big deal, he was buying my dinnner and drinks (on an expense account) and I didn’t want to change the fun mood, but it was almost like not worth saying anything if I wasn’t taken very seriously.

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